As EVP, Strategic Insights and Research for MTV Networks, Colleen Fahey Rush’s background includes broadcast at CBS Owned and Operated Stations, Hispanic television at Telemundo and agency research at J Walter Thompson. She now oversees all of MTV Networks research, and is a member of the CTAM Research Committee and co-chair of the 2009 Research Conference Planning Committee.
There are so many research studies out there. Some are of excellent quality, and some are maybe a little more ‘seat of the pants.’ How do you maintain the quality of your research and how do you address the issue of research quality?
CFR: That is a good question. I think the Advertising Research Foundation is doing an online research quality event very soon, and it was also the first session at the CTAM Research Conference in April 2009. It is a hot topic because a lot of people think all online research is the same, and it’s not. How those panels [of respondents] come to be, whether they are self- selected or emailed [invited] to come in, there are different things that absolutely drive the quality of them. Certainly when we put together an RFP, we have discussions with potential vendors about how they create their panels. That is an important step for us, and one that we always make as part of our process.
We also issue the RFP to at least three vendors. We don’t automatically use the same vendor again and again. So we are availing ourselves of how new ideas are coming to the fore. We are big fans of qualitative research, but we never do it in a vacuum. We always also do a piece of rigorous quantitative, so that the qualitative is, in essence, bringing the quantitative to life… I am really glad that research quality is getting the attention that it is right now.
What would you say is the most dramatic change in the industry in the past five years?
CFR: It’s been a heck of a five years! I would say social networks, DVRs and online video are definitely the top three things that have exploded or evolved – or all of the above – in the past five years. They have really changed the ways that consumers watch, but also the ways consumers relate to what they’re watching, communicate around it and share it. So, compared to five years ago when all you could do was watch your favorite show, now you can interact with it in many, many ways. I just think that has changed the overall business dramatically.
Among all of your networks is Logo, which targets the gay and lesbian market. But that market is not as ubiquitous as other niche groups. Do you do any kind of specialty research for Logo? How do you approach the sales position of Logo with the dearth of actual available data?
CFR: We basically had to take matters into our own hands. There is no syndicated data out there to work with to help us position the network or explain this audience or segment, so we have really just done it ourselves. And we’ve done a couple of different studies to portray and segment the gay and lesbian market for ourselves, for our programmers and for our advertising partners. It’s been very well received. They are happy to learn what we have learned along the way.
In terms of segmentation of that particular cohort, are there many different segments?
CFR: Sure. Yes. I don’t remember all the names of the segments, but it was actually a fantastic study. We’ve got an older gay and lesbian market for whom it was a big deal to come out when they did. Then there is a younger segment. It wasn’t really a big deal for them to come out, and so their self-identity is a bit different in ways. [For them], it’s not all about being gay, the way it might be for some of the older segments. It deserves a full blown presentation, because it is really interesting.
Can you tell us a bit about your work with CTAM?
CFR: Yes, my pleasure. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom back in April, and it was a terrific conference. I got to work on it with Horst Stipp (SVP NBCU), and it was a terrific experience. I think that I have a new appreciation for what it is like to put a conference together and working on all the different panels, keynote speakers. I think it is a terrific group of researchers because we all have this commonality that we are in the cable space, and that has different, unique truisms and challenges to it. And there’s a terrific sense of community that I have when I am at the conference, either as the co-chair or just in attendance. It’s a great group of people.
(There are six video segments of this interview available here. The topics include more on the aforementioned Logo research, past trends and predictions and the role of research at MTV Networks. Interview conducted by Charlene Weisler, chair of the CTAM Research Committee and research veteran. Her blog covers everything related to research in the media landscape. She can be reached at CharleneWeisler@yahoo.com).